Creative collaboration: Inmates, staff at Kenosha Co. Jail work together to brighten their space & themselves

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KENOSHA COUNTY -- It is an example of the impact a little creative collaboration can have. Inmates at the Kenosha County Jail have worked side-by-side with staff members to brighten not only the space they share -- but also, themselves.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

Locked doors and drab conditions weren't just punishing for the inmates. Staff members also said the blandness was getting to them.

"We knew it was kind of drab around here and not really an enthusiastic place to work," Thomas Corrao, commander of Kenosha Correctional said.

A "Facilities Improvement Committee" came up with a simple but unusual answer.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

Ted Saarnio

Ted Saarnio

"An officer in one of the dorms I was in mentioned they had a paint crew going on," Ted Saarnio said.

As an inmate, Saarnio jumped at the chance to paint the jail. And then something unexpected happened.

"As we were cleaning, I found an overhead projector in one of the rooms," Corrao said.

And an idea involving the painting of colorful murals at the Kenosha County Jail was born.

Ted Saarnio

Ted Saarnio

"I'm a worker -- so I was interested in working," Saarnio said.

Saarnio was one of five people on his paint crew that used projected images as a template for transformation. He armed himself with a paintbrush and got to work on a cinder-block canvas.

"Sometimes it takes three to four coats to get it right," Saarnio said.

The crews took to the gym wall -- painting a mural for the Kenosha Unified School District -- for teachers who come to the jail to teach.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

The mural crews said the atmosphere was not only improved in what you could see while in jail -- but inmates' attitudes changed as well.

"It makes you feel better about yourself. You can see the overall mood of the dorm change a little bit -- especially with the guys I work with. They're getting a morale boost out of this also," Saarnio said.

The cafeteria was brightened up, along with other rooms, hallways, signs and the like. This, as inmates painted alongside their guards.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

"We stand side-by-side with other inmates and fellow officers as we paint these. It gives us a good opportunity to co-mingle and understand each other," Randy Julius, correctional officer said.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

"It makes you feel like you're back in the real world. You're not an inmate. It gives you a sense of being a man again working side-by-side next to someone instead of against them," Saarnio said.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

"It helps me be a better officer because it gives me a better understanding of the individuals who are incarcerated here," Julius said.

Many of these artists said they have a favorite piece of work after this project -- and that includes the jail staff.

"What we are looking at in the roll-call room is a memorial in honor of officers that have fallen and passed away," Julius said.

Sgt. Thomas Corrao

Sgt. Thomas Corrao

"It's my 20th year with the dept and those officers have all passed away in my time here so I thought that it would be a good tribute to them," Corrao said.

"It's honoring our fallen. Giving them a sense of being," Julius said.

"I'm proud that I was able to do something positive here. The one that I worked on for the memorial, I knew some of the gentlemen who had died. Good people on either side. They're good people. The guards that I knew that had passed away here, I was proud to be part of that one for sure," Saarnio said.

There are plans to paint murals outside of the Kenosha County Jail as well.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

When the inmates on the painting crews get out after their sentences, there is hope that art will imitate life -- with lessons learned from this new type of creative collaboration.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

"You can tell the difference in the staff. People are coming around. I think the mood is upbeat now," Saarnio said.

Kenosha County Jail

Kenosha County Jail

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